Reward offered for info on copper wire thieves who vandalized Upshur County substation, causing fire, power outage

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 9:57 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 4:29 PM CDT
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UPSHUR COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - A copper theft resulted in a fire at an Upshur Rural Electric substation, knocking out power to about 2000 homes. It happened at the corner of Bluebird Road and Venters Road about two miles south of Gilmer. And Upshur Rural says whoever cut one particular ground wire to try to steal it is lucky to be alive.

On Thursday afternoon, Crime Stoppers announced that a reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the people involved in the crime. Crime Stoppers number is 903-843-3131. The amount of the award was not stated.

The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office says they had a couple calls from the area early Wednesday morning. The first was around 5:30 am about a suspicious person said to have no shirt and a headlamp on Centerpoint property next to the substation. Deputies didn’t find anyone.

At around 7am Quincy Bowens heard something unusual across the street.

“I heard sizzling, you know. It was just sizzling and it got louder and louder and it sounded like electricity was being fried. So me and my mom came outside to see what was going on and we saw nothing but flames,” Bowens said.

That was when the second call to 911 happened. Several departments responded to the fire according to Upshur Rural Marketing and Communications Manager Tony McCullough.

“And they put out the fire which can be a dangerous situation. Electricity and water do not mix whatsoever,” McCullough said.

After the fire was out deputies took a closer look at the area. They found someone had:

“Cut through the fence in the back, and immediately started cutting copper ground wires,” McCullough said.

White flags marked where about 500 feet of copper cable had been cut out and taken.

“And they kept cutting until they got to one of our regulators, the main part of the substation. And whenever they cut it, that’s when it went up in flames,” McCullough said.

McCullough explained the regulators drop the power level down for transmission to homes, so handle thousands of volts. Fortunately they had replacements on hand. Power was rerouted so by mid morning:

“It’s back on. It’s back on and running good,” Bowens said.

That was for most customers. The Glenwood substation was repaired, tested and up and running by around 3 pm. Upshur Rural says there was about 100 thousand dollars in damage.

The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office says locks on the gates of the Centerpoint site next to substation had also been cut open. And deputies say they have found footprints and tire tracks that perhaps shouldn’t be at an unused gas well site. They have not named a suspect at this time.

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